Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cheese Sauce & Scones (don't worry, not together)

Cheese Sauce
I guess it was Sunday afternoon when my mom sent me a text asking me what I was making for dinner. At that point, I hadn't even thought much about dinner. I'd been feeling a little funky during the day (guess I was gearing up for that migraine on Monday), so I had nothing planned. Luckily, we had some leftover Italian sausage, so that went on the menu. Then I saw the squash we're still working our way through. Steamed squash always works. That seemed a little boring, so I decided to make some pasta with cheese sauce.

Cheese sauce is actually pretty quick and easy to make, and when you pour it over noodles, you get a quick mac and cheese that tastes way better than boxed stuff. (I like the boxed stuff too sometimes, but this is just better.)

The cheese sauce I make is basically a white sauce with added cheese and a little dijon mustard, nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and pepper.

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup non-fat milk (you can use any milk--I just use what I have which is generally non-fat)
3/4 - 1 cup shredded cheddar (or jack or whatever you have on hand that is similar to either of these--I think my favorite is a combo of mild cheddar and smoked Gruyere.)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
ground nutmeg
cayenne pepper
black pepper

Heat the milk in a small saucepan or in the microwave until it is hot but not boiling. Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 3 to 4 minutes. Keep the heat low so the flour mixture doesn't brown. Whisking constantly, pour the milk into the flour mixture and mix vigorously until the sauce is smooth with no lumps. I have found that having the milk heated makes it easier to mix it into the flour mixture.

Keeping the temperature low, stir in 3/4 cup shredded cheese (more or less), Dijon mustard, a dash or 2 each of nutmeg and cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to fully mix in all the ingredients. Let simmer, covered, on low while you finish cooking the rest of your meal. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk or water until it is the desired consistency.

Cook up some pasta and mix in the sauce with whatever else you like (I like to add peas to mine.), and you've got mac and cheese.

I made scones today. I've made them from a mix and once before I've made them from scratch, but I couldn't remember what recipe I used. I did a search for scone recipes, and I think I found the one I used before. These scones turned out perfect. Scones aren't really like a biscuit--they're more NOT like a biscuit...meaning it's helpful to use biscuits in comparison to describe scones, but they aren't really that alike. Scones are denser than biscuits. They are also a bit sweeter, and the outside is slightly crispy but also flaky like shortbread In fact, that's probably the best way to describe these scones--kind of a cross between a biscuit and shortbread. Very yummy.

Cream Scone Recipe:
from Joy Of
with some changes and commentary by me

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (75 grams) cold butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream (contains 35-40% butterfat)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (I was out of parchment paper, so I just put the scones directly on the cookie sheet. I recommend parchment paper though as my scones ended up a little dark on the bottom.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives (I used my hands, working quickly so as not to let the butter get too warm). The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. In a small measuring cup combine the whipping cream, beaten egg and vanilla. Add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined. Do not over mix.

Knead dough gently on a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches (18 cm) round. Then, using a 2 1/2 inch (6.5 cm) round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds. (Alternately, you can just cut the dough disc into wedges.) Place the rounds on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing a few inches apart. Brush the tops of the scones with a little cream. This helps to brown the tops of the scones during baking. (I didn't find this to be true, but the cream does make them nice and glossy-looking.)

Bake for about 12 - 18 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve with Devon cream or softly whipped cream and your favorite jam.

Makes about 8 round scones.

These are excellent with clotted cream and jam, but they are also great with just jam or lemon curd. Frankly, I even like them plain.

I really need to get my camera out and take some photos of the stuff I make. I think it could get boring just hearing about things without ever seeing pictures. I also need to try to find a way to format the recipes so they are easier to read. I'll work on that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Summer's Last Hurrah

I spent the last week out at the coast near Bodega Bay with my family. We stayed in a house right on the coast overlooking the beach. The whole back wall of the house was windows; the view couldn't be beat. We spent time at the beach, played games, read, did puzzles, and just had a good time. The weather was great; warm but not hot. It was like a tiny bit of summer leftover into fall. I made this salad one day for lunch.

Asian-Inspired Chicken Salad

1/2 head of cabbage
1 large carrot
1 small can water chestnuts
1 bunch scallions/green onions or 1/2 cup very thinly sliced mild onion
1 cup chopped, cooked chicken

1/3 cup vegetable oil (if using olive oil, use light not extra virgin)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Flavor packet from 1 package of Maruchan or Top Ramen any flavor
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce (optional-I liked the stronger flavor it gave to the dressing)

Toppings: (or crunchies, as my sister calls them)
Toasted slivered almonds
Toasted sesame seeds
Ramen noodles (uncooked) crushed and toasted on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven. Stir every few minutes until lightly browned. Remove and cool.

Make dressing:
Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Set aside.

Make salad:
Shred cabbage into longish thin strips; make sure you remove and discard the core. Peel carrot and grate it or use the peeler to make long thin curls of carrot. Open and drain can of water chestnuts. In a large bowl, toss cabbage, carrots, water chestnuts, onion, and chicken. Pour in about 1/2 to 2/3 of the dressing (just enough to coat everything) and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Serve salad and have each person top with crunchies and additional dressing as they like.

Serves 2-4